After the painful Richmond marathon last month, a fiasco involving my sports bra getting lost in the post meant I couldn’t run for a few weeks. By the time I’d acquired some more chest scaffolding, I was out of the habit. On a family break to Hastings I finally broke the dry spell with a horrible Sunday morning run along the seafront. The rain was pouring down and the wind was so strong it hurt. For the next week or so I was running before work at 5am, quite tired and very grumpy. I wasn’t pushing fast enough to feel I’d accomplished anything but also wasn’t running slowly enough to just relax and enjoy it – a sweaty limbo, essentially.
In the midst of planning a 5000 mile run, I had fallen out of love with running. It was unfortunate.
Perhaps also quite unfortunate, I had just agreed to fill a last minute spare place in a team at Endure 24, a 24 hour ultra running event set just outside of Reading. It was one of the first races I ever ran, back in 2013 just six months after I started running, and I was excited to go back again having had to drop out last year, despite the current tantrum I was throwing with my trainers.
At 6.45am on Saturday 13th June, I bundled into the car with my mum, my brother and enough clothes, snacks and camping equipment to keep us going for a good three months should we get stranded on the A43. My mum was also running in a team whilst Chris, my brother, was tackling the whole 24 hours solo for the second year in a row.
As we drove South, rain clouds started to loom overhead. My mum and Chris told me horror stories about the terrible weather and all round mud fest of the year before and, when the heavens opened shortly into the journey, I began to fear we were in for a repeat. It was merely drizzling by the time we arrived at Wasing Park though and, despite shivering in my woolly hat as we erected the tents and a very oversized gazebo, I felt hopeful that perhaps we’d remain reasonably dry after all.
I was part of a very relaxed team of eight and was running fourth so had a good few hours to wait for my first lap which meant it was time to begin with the most important priority of weekend: food. I made the first of many ‘snack bowls’ i.e. the contents of the picnic box dumped in a bowl. (Black pepper pretzels, Jaffa Cakes, Haribo, brazil nuts and blueberries make an exceptional combination, in case you were wondering.) Clif Bar also man a snack station right by the start point which just about tips Endure 24 to a new status of awesome. Unlimited crunchy peanut butter Clif?! Erm yes please.
In 2013, I’d gotten all the way to the start line before realising I’d forgotten my timing chip – the result of which would have been disqualification for the whole team – and my brother had been forced to start his race with a half mile sprint to the camp and back to fetch it. Learning from my mistakes, I made sure the band was clamped firmly to my ankle and I changed into running kit, my turn coming around quickly.
I arrived at the changeover area with quite a lot of time to spare as, it being our first lap, we weren’t really sure how long one another would take. The changeover seemed a lot more crowded and complicated that it had two years before but eventually I saw Amy running along the other side of the campsite so I pushed through the crowd, ready to grab the relay wristband from her. Clutching the band in my hand, I set off for my first lap.
The route begins with a couple of hundred metres of flat path before moving into the first hill. Running up this, I had very mixed feelings. On one hand, the 1km* sign reading ‘you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great’ was filling me with those warm, fuzzy tingles of motivation. On the other hand, my legs and my breathing were telling me ‘stop running, you hate running, stop right now’. Luckily I’m an ignorant sod and ignored the latter, carrying on up that hill and into the forest instead.
*Pet peeve of the race: it’s advertised as a 5 mile course yet the markers are in kilometres. Why?!
After about 2km I slowly began to enjoy the run, secretly not hating the uphill because I knew it meant downhill couldn’t be far away. I started pushing to go a little faster, feeling strong and relishing the scenery, the atmosphere, the camaraderie with other runners. Soon enough, I could hear the din of the race village and I knew there wasn’t far to go. I crossed the line in 44 minutes 17 seconds and began to remember that this whole running malarkey isn’t so bad after all.
The rest of the 24 hour period was passed in much the same way; eat, nap, run, repeat. It always amazes me how quickly we can make a routine in the most obscure of places. My lap times were all within about a minute of each other and I was pretty pleased to have ran so consistently (as we discovered at the Richmond marathon, consistency isn’t usually something I’m very good at). The laps largely blur into one, with the general gist being pant up the hill, run down the hill, savour the flat ground and feel very excited throughout. I ended up running four laps, 20 miles total in total, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed not to squeeze in another. I was on a lycra-induced high and I wanted more.
Despite not having ran quite as far as I would have liked, as I showered after my last lap and pulled on my finisher’s t shirt to go and cheer on the last runners, it was safe to say I had fallen back in love with running. I was outdoors, the sun was shining, there was a faint ache in my legs and I was wolfing down the remainder of a packet of biscuits like there was no tomorrow. As the last team member ran into the field, we joined him on the course to run through the finish together with the running group’s flag and it was a pretty awesome moment to end on.
As a family, my mum, brother and I had ran 125 miles, with my brother contributing 85 of those in his amazing solo effort. I had a great weekend and regained my excitement for running and for that I just have to say a huge thank you to Endure 24. I owe you one.